Step One: Know your camper.
Before you even begin sorting through the seemingly endless possibilities in and around your area, take a good long look at your camper to determine what kind of experience he is ready for.
Ask yourself: Is he adaptable? Social? Does he love joining group activities? Is he a sporty kind of guy who loves plenty of fresh air? Does he enjoy a variety of activities—plus adventure?
If that’s his style, a traditional day camp may be the answer. Day camp typically offers lots of organized activities and out door sports, along with a lake or a pool for swimming, a challenge course, a rock wall, and color wars.
On the other hand, if your camper prefers air conditioning to fresh air, you may want to check out community and school-based programs in your area. More and more public and private schools turn their facilities into “camp” when classes are not in session.
These programs are great for kids who prefer working on low-key activities, including dance, theater, arts and crafts, yoga, sculpting, music, science and technology. You may even find academic classes that are designed for enrichment purposes only. That’s a great way for youngsters to explore topics not generally covered in school.
Unlike traditional camps, school and community-based programs are more likely to offer half-day programs and flexible hours, giving your child to experience camp on his own terms at a reasonable price.
Step 2: Research Options.
Once you determine camp is the way to go, you will eventually have to decide whether it’s time to move on from day camp.
There are no hard-and-fast rules here. Some kids may be interested at age seven or eight, others at nine or 10, and still others, never. The key is to watch for signs your child is ready.
The questions you’ll want to ask: Has my child outgrown the same old, same old? Does she like sleepovers with friends and family? Will she work with others to achieve a goal—like erecting a tent or building a fire? Can she share space with bunkmates she loves and a few she doesn’t? Does she want a residential experience?
If the answers are yes, get cracking.
Overnight camp is where kids learn to live, eat, and share with their contemporaries long before they go to college. Sleep-away camps are typically farther from home, which complicates the picture for some children. And while these camps may offer many of the same sports, arts, and skill-building programs she’s used to, they may take them to another level.
Color wars are bigger, bolder and more competitive. Campers may be encouraged to master more skills or compete in sporting events with talented kids in other programs.
Sleep-away camp is a great character and confidence-booster for the right kid at the right time, given competent guidance and supervision. It is also far more expensive than day camp, but financial aid may be available if you qualify.